The Last Kingdom is the first book in Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Stories (which currently contains six books with more to come). This book tells the story of the early life of Uhtred of Bebbanburg.
Uhtred was born Osbert, the second son of Earldorman Uhtred of Bebbanburg, but when his older brother is killed, he is renamed Uhtred, and becomes the Bebbanburg heir. While trying to take revenge on the Danes who killed his oldest son, Uhtred the elder is killed and the 10 year old Uhtred is captured by the Danes.
Uhtred’s captor is Earl Ragnar the Fearless, a Danish warlord. The relationship between Uhtred and Ragnar quickly changes from captor/captive to father/son. Uhtred spends years with the Danes, growing up as a Dane and even fighting for the Danes, and his relationship with Ragnar is closer than his relationship ever was with his own father.
Meanwhile, Uhtred’s uncle, Aelfric, claims Bebbanburg as his own. Uhtred swears that he will eventually reclaim his rightful inheritance.
When Ragnar eventually dies, Uhtred finds that he has no real place among the Danes, so he returns to the English.
King Alfred offers Uhtred command of his fleet of ships on condition that Uhtred marries Mildred. So Uhtred marries and has a son – Uhtred.
He then finds himself once again with the Danes as part of a hostage exchange. When the Danes break their treaty and murder the hostages, Uhtred escapes to get back to his wife and son, only to find that they have been kidnapped by Odda, the son of a Wessex Earldorman. While searching for them, he fights alongside Odda’s father against the Danes and finally takes part in his first shield wall, killing the Danish warlord Ubba.
I love the mix of history and fiction that Bernard Cornwell presents in this novel. I suspect that the history on its own would not be quite as exciting. As I can’t tell the different between fact and fiction while reading, I just have to sit back and enjoy the story.
I’m looking forward to reading the next in the series – ‘The Pale Horseman’.
Book published 2004